It's time to move on, NASCAR.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. makes the Sprint Cup series headlines almost every week.
If he runs well, commentators speculate on how his success could impact the popularity of NASCAR. If he runs poorly, the headlines bemoan the fact that NASCAR would be better off if only Junior could start winning races again.
I have a solution to the weekly soap drama that is the relationship between the fortunes of Dale Jr. and the future of NASCAR: Move on from Junior and accept the fact that he is not the savior of the sport—nor can he be.
At some point, people need to recognize reality. The reality is that Junior has won a grand total of one race in the last four years. His current winless streak is closing in on 100 races. He hasn't finished in the top five in points since 2006.
I am not a Junior hater, and I don't have a problem with the fact that he is NASCAR's most popular driver.
Bill Elliott won the most popular driver award year after year, long after his days as a top driver were over. That was fine. People didn't talk about the success of the sport depending on Elliott winning races. But NASCAR's current obsession with Dale Earnhardt Jr. is unhealthy for the sport.
Would NASCAR be better off if people didn't perceive its popularity as dependent on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s success?
NASCAR's commentators and the sport's governing body need to move on from their infatuation with the son of the Intimidator. Linking the success of NASCAR as a whole to the performance of Junior on the racetrack is a losing proposition for everyone involved.
On numerous occasions, Junior has talked about the pressure he feels to win and perform well for his legions of fans, compounded by the fact that he is the face of the sport.
Without the pressure of an entire sport on his back, who knows what could happen to Junior's performance? Perhaps he would start running at the front and winning races again.
If so, that can only be a good thing for Junior, his fans, and everyone involved. It's great for an Earnhardt to be running well and winning races in this sport.
But don't burden Junior with the weight of having the success of NASCAR riding on his back, and don't limit NASCAR's popularity to the success of Dale Earnhardt Jr.